The date is December 18; Winter Meetings are a distant memory, yet key free agents remain. A strange feeling fills the air. Weren’t the likes of Mark Trumbo, JosA� Bautista, and Edwin EncarnaciA?n supposed to have signed by now? Not necessarily. You see, we continue to underestimate the power of the qualifying offer. And apparently, how cheap teams are willing to be. Fortunately next offseason, teams won’t be able to hide behind the qualifying offer any longer.
But among the top remaining bats, patience is being tested. Markets continue to shrink. And in certain instances, there’s barely a murmur. The lack of murmurs don’t apply to Trumbo, however. A deal with a four-year framework had been agreed upon between his camp and Baltimore, but talks would ultimately stall. And now, for the time being, the offer is off the table. A deal near $80 million is reportedly the wish. But if it didn’t happen yet, it’s hard to see it happening at all.
Now Trumbo, well, as a player he’s truly only good for hitting baseballs very long distances. He will strike out a lot and not get on base too often. He will also offer negative defensive value if you were to deploy him at first base. But he only turns 31 in January and is coming off a bounce-back year of career-high proportions. His 47 home runs would lead the league, while a 123 wRC+ would be good for 24th. (17th in the AL; sixth among designated hitters.)
Assuming you can get that type of production for the next few years, such a commitment doesn’t seem so bad. Such an assumption may be a tad dangerous, though. For starters, the home runs would need to remain in that range. We’re not suggesting he needs to slug 40-plus every season (though that would be very fun), but he needs to dispatch of more than he did in 2015 (22). Significantly more. A reasonable hope would be anything in the realm of his 2012-13 campaigns with the Angelsa��33 home runs, 116 wRC+, and 2.3 fWAR on average.
Oh right, the hindsight thing. Should Trumbo have taken the qualifying offer this winter? At his age coming off that type of season? Goodness no.
Stranger than Trumbo is that EncarnaciA?n remains without a club. Sure he’s a few years older (and turns 34 in January), but for the past five seasons EncarnaciA?n has been as consistent as any team could hope for. Well not the ones playing against him, I guess.
From 2012 on, the 1B/DH has been worth 4.1 fWAR per year to Toronto. He is a better hitter than our first guest in every conceivable way. Over those five seasons, EncarnaciA?n would slash .272/.367/.544 (.912 OPS) with an average wRC+ of 146. He has slugged 34 or more dingers in the past five seasons as wella��tying his career-best mark with 42 in ’16. He strikes out much less often and gets on base at a far greater rate. Like Trumbo his defense won’t help, but won’t hurt all that noticeably either.
Like Trumbo, EncarnaciA?n should almost always be utilized as a DH. Going forward, he probably has two or three solid seasons left in him. And before you ask, no, he should not have taken the qualifying offer. Knock it off.
One man who may genuinely be regretting not taking the one-year deal worth $17.2 million, however, is EncarnaciA?n’s teammate for the past eight seasons, JosA� Bautista.
That’s not to say he had a bad year in 2016. Most clubs would happily take .234/.366/.452/.818 with a 122 wRC+. But Bautista would slug just 22 home runs, his lowest output since 2009 (13). His defense would remain detrimental. His numbers would translate to just a 1.4 fWAR, lower than Trumbo (2.2) and of course far lower than EncarnaciA?n. And, he’s 36 years old. There’s significant risk here.
Trumbo, on the other hand, has age very much on his side. Obviously Bautista has been a much more consistent hitter than Trumbo over the years, and productively so. But his most recent campaign will make most clubs think twice. No team other than Toronto should pen Joey Bats to a one-year deal. Why would you give up a draft pick for just one season? That said, it’s hard to see Bautista settling for anything less than three years.
Of course, he might not have a choice. Should he have taken the qualifying offer? Hindsight is shouting at us to say yes, and we’ll oblige. It was not necessarily a bad year for Bautista, but it certainly was a strange one. And perhaps a sign of things to come.
It’s safe to say all three will find a home relatively soon, but Bautista isn’t landing anywhere before Trumbo or EncarnaciA?n. Not anywhere outside Toronto, at least. And when all three do sign their name on the dotted line, we can be sure it’ll be for far less than their original asking price. Because even in the thinnest of free agent markets, teams will pinch pennies. I mean wait. Yeah, teams will wait.